There are two proposed sites in Jerusalem for where Jesus was crucified and buried. The first site which has tradition dating all the way back to the second century is the church of Holy Sepulcher. The massive church building is shared by a very complex arrangement of Catholic, Orthodox, Coptic, Syrian, Armenian, and Ethiopian, Christians. The more protestant friendly proposed location is the garden tomb and Gordon’s Calvary. Gordon’s Calvary is a rocky hill that with a little imagination can appear to have a skull like face in it. Just downhill from this rock, an ancient tomb was uncovered in an area that had long been used as a vineyard or garden.
The differences between these two locations could not be more different. One has roots that go back to the second century, while the other was proposed in the 1800’s. The church of the Holy Sepulcher is very ornate and golden in its decoration. The garden tomb is intentionally kept very green and simple. In general, protestant traditions tend to find the trappings and setting of the garden tomb more pleasant to experience than the heavily Eastern Orthodox setting of the church of the Holy Sepulcher.
When I was fortunate enough to visit the Holy Land in 2016 I got to go with Mike Coyner, the former Bishop of the Indiana Conference. This particular trip was his eighth time to visit Israel. On the last day when we visited the garden tomb, I asked him, “As someone who has been here multiple times, do you have an opinion about which site is more valid or authentic?” He said he did, and he shared: “It is my opinion that it does not matter because both ways the tomb is empty and that is what we should be celebrating.”
It may not be the answer that I was looking for, but it is also the right answer. Far too often in life and in our faith we get distracted by things that are of less importance. We allow ourselves to get bogged down in arguments of who is more right, which side is more valid, or whose belief is more biblically authentic. This can lead us to bicker and argue. It can create division and animosity. It leads to the ridiculous scenario where people who all belong to the body of Christ see people who think differently about minor issues as an enemy.
The cultural climate we find ourselves in today is one that is highly polarized. It is a climate that is quick to divide people into “us vs. them” camps about everything. The celebration of Easter stands in stark contrast to that viewpoint. On Easter we celebrate that death has lost its sting and the tomb is empty. It does not matter if we are Methodist, Baptist, Catholic, Orthodoxy, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Lutheran, Apostolic, or non-denominational. We all celebrate that the tomb is empty. Because the tomb is empty there is enough grace for all of us.
No matter how different we are from other believers in faith practice, in doctrine, in political alignment, or in lifestyle we are all saved by the one Lord and Savior. As we continue this month in Lent in our build up to Easter, I think one of the ways that we can celebrate the reality of the empty tomb is to remember that it is what unites us. May we all treat all people with grace and love because what we have in common is far greater than anything that separates us.